Bullies. Homework. Peer pressure. Social media. Crushes.
The middle school years prove to be some of the toughest, most socially awkward times of our lives for many of us. It’s no wonder depression, anxiety, and behavior disorders are so prevalent among tweens today. As a result of mental health issues such as these, children can develop eating disorders, neglect their studies, become withdrawn, and even turn to drugs or suicide.
So, how do we provide direction and support to help middle school students develop healthy habits for both brain and body? While there is no set answer, a fortunate group of tweens in Prince William County, Virginia, is participating in a life-changing after-school program, thanks to one nursing professional’s passion for kids and mental health.
“We’re trying to build stronger kids and make them more resilient with the help of good mental health practices,” said Dr. Phyllis Morgan, coordinator for Walden University’s MSN Family Nurse Practitioner specialization and the nurse scientist behind a new program intended to build resiliency in middle school-aged children.
This six-week pilot program consists of a series of modules, all of which are led by an expert counselor. The modules Dr. Morgan designed as part of the program’s framework cover topics relevant to tweens, such as drug use and abuse, alcohol consumption, healthy relationships, violence, nutrition and wellness, depression, anxiety, and overall emotional well-being. “Mental health has become a top concern of Prince William County residents, which was a major consideration when it came to obtaining funding for this program,” said Dr. Morgan. “And while we won’t begin to realize the results of this program for a few more months, our hope is that we will one day be able to expand into high schools, reaching an even greater number of children in the community.”
The statistics surrounding the mental well-being of our youth paint a sad picture, shedding further light on the need for programs that help build resiliency in our children.
As disheartening as these numbers are, the children attending the program in Prince William County make great strides. “Kids are amazing. They are so resilient, regardless of what they are facing. The program has empowered them and given them the knowledge and strategies they need to better deal with the issues they face,” said Dr. Morgan. “We’re also trying to get rid of the stigma that is associated with mental health issues. Kids are learning that if someone has anxiety or depression, they can still function in society—they just need to function a little differently.”
Nursing professionals like Dr. Morgan are turning their passion and knowledge into purpose. When asked what advice she would give to other medical professionals who have a desire to create change in their community, Dr. Morgan said, “Know what you can bring to the table, but also be aware of your limitations. Then, surround yourself with people who have strengths where you have limitations. Create partnerships and connect with people. After all, like Walden, it’s all about the greater good.”
Dr. Phyllis Morgan has been a certified Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP) for several years and is the coordinator for the MSN Family Nurse Practitioner specialization at Walden University. She is a Fellow of the American Association of Nurse Practitioners and a member of several professional and community organizations.